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T. C. Peterson and M. O. Baringer

Abstract

The global mean temperature in 2008 was slightly cooler than that in 2007; however, it still ranks within the 10 warmest years on record. Annual mean temperatures were generally well above average in South America, northern and southern Africa, Iceland, Europe, Russia, South Asia, and Australia. In contrast, an exceptional cold outbreak occurred during January across Eurasia and over southern European Russia and southern western Siberia. There has been a general increase in land-surface temperatures and in permafrost temperatures during the last several decades throughout the Arctic region, including increases of 1° to 2°C in the last 30 to 35 years in Russia. Record setting warm summer (JJA) air temperatures were observed throughout Greenland.

The year 2008 was also characterized by heavy precipitation in a number of regions of northern South America, Africa, and South Asia. In contrast, a prolonged and intense drought occurred during most of 2008 in northern Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and southern Brazil, causing severe impacts to agriculture and affecting many communities.

The year began with a strong La Niña episode that ended in June. Eastward surface current anomalies in the tropical Pacific Ocean in early 2008 played a major role in adjusting the basin from strong La Niña conditions to ENSO-neutral conditions by July–August, followed by a return to La Niña conditions late in December. The La Niña conditions resulted in far-reaching anomalies such as a cooling in the central tropical Pacific, Arctic Ocean, and the regions extending from the Gulf of Alaska to the west coast of North America; changes in the sea surface salinity and heat content anomalies in the tropics; and total column water vapor, cloud cover, tropospheric temperature, and precipitation patterns typical of a La Niña. Anomalously salty ocean surface salinity values in climatologically drier locations and anomalously fresh values in rainier locations observed in recent years generally persisted in 2008, suggesting an increase in the hydrological cycle.

The 2008 Atlantic hurricane season was the 14th busiest on record and the only season ever recorded with major hurricanes each month from July through November. Conversely, activity in the northwest Pacific was considerably below normal during 2008. While activity in the north Indian Ocean was only slightly above average, the season was punctuated by Cyclone Nargis, which killed over 145,000 people; in addition, it was the seventh-strongest cyclone ever in the basin and the most devastating to hit Asia since 1991.

Greenhouse gas concentrations continued to rise, increasing by more than expected based on with CO2 the 1979 to 2007 trend. In the oceans, the global mean uptake for 2007 is estimated to be 1.67 Pg-C, about CO2 0.07 Pg-C lower than the long-term average, making it the third-largest anomaly determined with this method since 1983, with the largest uptake of carbon over the past decade coming from the eastern Indian Ocean. Global phytoplankton chlorophyll concentrations were slightly elevated in 2008 relative to 2007, but regional changes were substantial (ranging to about 50%) and followed long-term patterns of net decreases in chlorophyll with increasing sea surface temperature. Ozone-depleting gas concentrations continued to fall globally to about 4% below the peak levels of the 2000–02 period. Total column ozone concentrations remain well below pre-1980, levels and the 2008 ozone hole was unusually large (sixth worst on record) and persistent, with low ozone values extending into the late December period. In fact the polar vortex in 2008 persisted longer than for any previous year since 1979.

Northern Hemisphere snow cover extent for the year was well below average due in large part to the record-low ice extent in March and despite the record-maximum coverage in January and the shortest snow cover duration on record (which started in 1966) in the North American Arctic. Limited preliminary data imply that in 2008 glaciers continued to lose mass, and full data for 2007 show it was the 17th consecutive year of loss. The northern region of Greenland and adjacent areas of Arctic Canada experienced a particularly intense melt season, even though there was an abnormally cold winter across Greenland's southern half. One of the most dramatic signals of the general warming trend was the continued significant reduction in the extent of the summer sea-ice cover and, importantly, the decrease in the amount of relatively older, thicker ice. The extent of the 2008 summer sea-ice cover was the second-lowest value of the satellite record (which started in 1979) and 36% below the 1979–2000 average. Significant losses in the mass of ice sheets and the area of ice shelves continued, with several fjords on the northern coast of Ellesmere Island being ice free for the first time in 3,000–5,500 years.

In Antarctica, the positive phase of the SAM led to record-high total sea ice extent for much of early 2008 through enhanced equatorward Ekman transport. With colder continental temperatures at this time, the 2007–08 austral summer snowmelt season was dramatically weakened, making it the second shortest melt season since 1978 (when the record began). There was strong warming and increased precipitation along the Antarctic Peninsula and west Antarctica in 2008, and also pockets of warming along coastal east Antarctica, in concert with continued declines in sea-ice concentration in the Amundsen/Bellingshausen Seas. One significant event indicative of this warming was the disintegration and retreat of the Wilkins Ice Shelf in the southwest peninsula area of Antarctica.

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D. S. Arndt, M. O. Baringer, and M. R. Johnson

Editors note: For easy download the posted pdf of the State of the Climate for 2009 is a low-resolution file. A high-resolution copy of the report is available by clicking here. Please be patient as it may take a few minutes for the high-resolution file to download.

Abstract

The year was characterized by a transition from a waning La Niña to a strengthening El Niño, which first developed in June. By December, SSTs were more than 2.0°C above average over large parts of the central and eastern equatorial Pacific. Eastward surface current anomalies, associated with the El Niño, were strong across the equatorial Pacific, reaching values similar to the 2002 El Niño during November and December 2009. The transition from La Niña to El Niño strongly influenced anomalies in many climate conditions, ranging from reduced Atlantic basin hurricane activity to large scale surface and tropospheric warmth.

Global average surface and lower-troposphere temperatures during the last three decades have been progressively warmer than all earlier decades, and the 2000s (2000–09) was the warmest decade in the instrumental record. This warming has been particularly apparent in the mid- and high-latitude regions of the Northern Hemisphere and includes decadal records in New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Europe, and the Arctic. The stratosphere continued a long cooling trend, except in the Arctic.

Atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations continued to rise, with CO2 increasing at a rate above the 1978 to 2008 average. The global ocean CO2 uptake flux for 2008, the most recent year for which analyzed data are available, is estimated to have been 1.23 Pg C yr−1, which is 0.25 Pg C yr−1 smaller than the long-term average and the lowest estimated ocean uptake in the last 27 years. At the same time, the total global ocean inventory of anthropogenic carbon stored in the ocean interior as of 2008 suggests an uptake and storage of anthropogenic CO2 at rates of 2.0 and 2.3 ±0.6 Pg C yr−1 for the decades of the 1990s and 2000s, respectively. Total-column ozone concentrations are still well below pre-1980 levels but have seen a recent reduction in the rate of decline while upper-stratospheric ozone showed continued signs of ongoing slow recovery in 2009. Ozone-depleting gas concentrations continued to decline although some halogens such as hydrochlorofluorocarbons are increasing globally. The 2009 Antarctic ozone hole was comparable in size to recent previous ozone holes, while still much larger than those observed before 1990. Due to large interannual variability, it is unclear yet whether the ozone hole has begun a slow recovery process.

Global integrals of upper-ocean heat content for the last several years have reached values consistently higher than for all prior times in the record, demonstrating the dominant role of the oceans in the planet's energy budget. Aside from the El Niño development in the tropical Pacific and warming in the tropical Indian Ocean, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) transitioned to a positive phase during the fall/winter 2009. Ocean heat fluxes contributed to SST anomalies in some regions (e.g., in the North Atlantic and tropical Indian Oceans) while dampening existing SST anomalies in other regions (e.g., the tropical and extratropical Pacific). The downward trend in global chlorophyll observed since 1999 continued through 2009, with current chlorophyll stocks in the central stratified oceans now approaching record lows since 1997.

Extreme warmth was experienced across large areas of South America, southern Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. Australia had its second warmest year on record. India experienced its warmest year on record; Alaska had its second warmest July on record, behind 2004; and New Zealand had its warmest August since records began 155 years ago. Severe cold snaps were reported in the UK, China, and the Russian federation. Drought affected large parts of southern North America, the Caribbean, South America, and Asia. China suffered its worst drought in five decades. India had a record dry June associated with the reduced monsoon. Heavy rainfall and floods impacted Canada, the United States, the Amazonia and southern South America, many countries along the east and west coasts of Africa, and the UK. The U.S. experienced its wettest October in 115 years and Turkey received its heaviest rainfall over a 48-hr period in 80 years.

Sea level variations during 2009 were strongly affected by the transition from La Niña to El Niño conditions, especially in the tropical Indo-Pacific. Globally, variations about the long-term trend also appear to have been influenced by ENSO, with a slight reduction in global mean sea level during the 2007/08 La Niña event and a return to the long-term trend, and perhaps slightly higher values, during the latter part of 2009 and the current El Niño event. Unusually low florida Current transports were observed in May and June and were linked to high sea level and coastal flooding along the east coast of the United States in the summer. Sea level significantly decreased along the Siberian coast through a combination of wind, ocean circulation, and steric effects. Cloud and moisture increased in the tropical Pacific. The surface of the western equatorial Pacific freshened considerably from 2008 to 2009, at least partially owing to anomalous eastward advection of fresh surface water along the equator during this latest El Niño. Outside the more variable tropics, the surface salinity anomalies associated with evaporation and precipitation areas persisted, consistent with an enhanced hydrological cycle.

Global tropical cyclone (TC) activity was the lowest since 2005, with six of the seven main hurricane basins (the exception is the Eastern North Pacific) experiencing near-normal or somewhat below-normal TC activity. Despite the relatively mild year for overall hurricane activity, several storms were particularly noteworthy: Typhoon Morakot was the deadliest typhoon on record to hit Taiwan; Cyclone Hamish was the most intense cyclone off Queensland since 1918; and the state of Hawaii experienced its first TC since 1992.

The summer minimum ice extent in the Arctic was the third-lowest recorded since 1979. The 2008/09 boreal snow cover season marked a continuation of relatively shorter snow seasons, due primarily to an early disappearance of snow cover in spring. Preliminary data indicate a high probability that 2009 will be the 19th consecutive year that glaciers have lost mass. Below normal precipitation led the 34 widest marine terminating glaciers in Greenland to lose 101 km2 ice area in 2009, within an annual loss rate of 106 km2 over the past decade. Observations show a general increase in permafrost temperatures during the last several decades in Alaska, northwest Canada, Siberia, and Northern Europe. Changes in the timing of tundra green-up and senescence are also occurring, with earlier green-up in the High Arctic and a shift to a longer green season in fall in the Low Arctic.

The Antarctic Peninsula continues to warm at a rate five times larger than the global mean warming. Associated with the regional warming, there was significant ice loss along the Antarctic Peninsula in the last decade. Antarctic sea ice extent was near normal to modestly above normal for the majority of 2009, with marked regional contrasts within the record. The 2008/09 Antarctic-wide austral summer snowmelt was the lowest in the 30-year history.

This 20th annual State of the Climate report highlights the climate conditions that characterized 2009, including notable extreme events. In total, 37 Essential Climate Variables are reported to more completely characterize the State of the Climate in 2009.

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J. Blunden, D. S. Arndt, and M. O. Baringer

Several large-scale climate patterns influenced climate conditions and weather patterns across the globe during 2010. The transition from a warm El Niño phase at the beginning of the year to a cool La Niña phase by July contributed to many notable events, ranging from record wetness across much of Australia to historically low Eastern Pacific basin and near-record high North Atlantic basin hurricane activity. The remaining five main hurricane basins experienced below- to well-below-normal tropical cyclone activity. The negative phase of the Arctic Oscillation was a major driver of Northern Hemisphere temperature patterns during 2009/10 winter and again in late 2010. It contributed to record snowfall and unusually low temperatures over much of northern Eurasia and parts of the United States, while bringing above-normal temperatures to the high northern latitudes. The February Arctic Oscillation Index value was the most negative since records began in 1950.

The 2010 average global land and ocean surface temperature was among the two warmest years on record. The Arctic continued to warm at about twice the rate of lower latitudes. The eastern and tropical Pacific Ocean cooled about 1°C from 2009 to 2010, reflecting the transition from the 2009/10 El Niño to the 2010/11 La Niña. Ocean heat fluxes contributed to warm sea surface temperature anomalies in the North Atlantic and the tropical Indian and western Pacific Oceans. Global integrals of upper ocean heat content for the past several years have reached values consistently higher than for all prior times in the record, demonstrating the dominant role of the ocean in the Earth's energy budget. Deep and abyssal waters of Antarctic origin have also trended warmer on average since the early 1990s. Lower tropospheric temperatures typically lag ENSO surface fluctuations by two to four months, thus the 2010 temperature was dominated by the warm phase El Niño conditions that occurred during the latter half of 2009 and early 2010 and was second warmest on record. The stratosphere continued to be anomalously cool.

Annual global precipitation over land areas was about five percent above normal. Precipitation over the ocean was drier than normal after a wet year in 2009. Overall, saltier (higher evaporation) regions of the ocean surface continue to be anomalously salty, and fresher (higher precipitation) regions continue to be anomalously fresh. This salinity pattern, which has held since at least 2004, suggests an increase in the hydrological cycle.

Sea ice conditions in the Arctic were significantly different than those in the Antarctic during the year. The annual minimum ice extent in the Arctic—reached in September—was the third lowest on record since 1979. In the Antarctic, zonally averaged sea ice extent reached an all-time record maximum from mid-June through late August and again from mid-November through early December. Corresponding record positive Southern Hemisphere Annular Mode Indices influenced the Antarctic sea ice extents.

Greenland glaciers lost more mass than any other year in the decade-long record. The Greenland Ice Sheet lost a record amount of mass, as the melt rate was the highest since at least 1958, and the area and duration of the melting was greater than any year since at least 1978. High summer air temperatures and a longer melt season also caused a continued increase in the rate of ice mass loss from small glaciers and ice caps in the Canadian Arctic. Coastal sites in Alaska show continuous permafrost warming and sites in Alaska, Canada, and Russia indicate more significant warming in relatively cold permafrost than in warm permafrost in the same geographical area. With regional differences, permafrost temperatures are now up to 2°C warmer than they were 20 to 30 years ago. Preliminary data indicate there is a high probability that 2010 will be the 20th consecutive year that alpine glaciers have lost mass.

Atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations continued to rise and ozone depleting substances continued to decrease. Carbon dioxide increased by 2.60 ppm in 2010, a rate above both the 2009 and the 1980–2010 average rates. The global ocean carbon dioxide uptake for the 2009 transition period from La Niña to El Niño conditions, the most recent period for which analyzed data are available, is estimated to be similar to the long-term average. The 2010 Antarctic ozone hole was among the lowest 20% compared with other years since 1990, a result of warmer-than-average temperatures in the Antarctic stratosphere during austral winter between mid-July and early September.

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W. E. Johns, L. M. Beal, M. O. Baringer, J. R. Molina, S. A. Cunningham, T. Kanzow, and D. Rayner

Abstract

Data from an array of six moorings deployed east of Abaco, Bahamas, along 26.5°N during March 2004–May 2005 are analyzed. These moorings formed the western boundary array of a transbasin observing system designed to continuously monitor the meridional overturning circulation and meridional heat flux in the subtropical North Atlantic, under the framework of the joint U.K.–U.S. Rapid Climate Change (RAPID)–Meridional Overturning Circulation (MOC) Program. Important features of the western boundary circulation include the southward-flowing deep western boundary current (DWBC) below 1000 m and the northward-flowing “Antilles” Current in the upper 1000 m. Transports in the western boundary layer are estimated from direct current meter observations and from dynamic height moorings that measure the spatially integrated geostrophic flow between moorings. The results of these methods are combined to estimate the time-varying transports in the upper and deep ocean over the width of the western boundary layer to a distance of 500 km offshore of the Bahamas escarpment. The net southward transport of the DWBC across this region, inclusive of northward deep recirculation, is −26.5 Sv (Sv ≡ 106 m3 s−1), which is divided nearly equally between upper (−13.9 Sv) and lower (−12.6 Sv) North Atlantic Deep Water (NADW). In the top 1000 m, 6.0 Sv flows northward in a thermocline-intensified jet near the western boundary. These transports are found to agree well with historical current meter data in the region collected between 1986 and 1997. Variability in both shallow and deep components of the circulation is large, with transports above 1000 m varying between −15 and +25 Sv and deep transports varying between −60 and +3 Sv. Much of this transport variability, associated with barotropic fluctuations, occurs on relatively short time scales of several days to a few weeks. Upon removal of the barotropic fluctuations, slower baroclinic transport variations are revealed, including a temporary stoppage of the lower NADW transport in the DWBC during November 2004.

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T. Kanzow, S. A. Cunningham, W. E. Johns, J. J-M. Hirschi, J. Marotzke, M. O. Baringer, C. S. Meinen, M. P. Chidichimo, C. Atkinson, L. M. Beal, H. L. Bryden, and J. Collins

Abstract

The Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) makes the strongest oceanic contribution to the meridional redistribution of heat. Here, an observation-based, 48-month-long time series of the vertical structure and strength of the AMOC at 26.5°N is presented. From April 2004 to April 2008, the AMOC had a mean strength of 18.7 ± 2.1 Sv (1 Sv ≡ 106 m3 s−1) with fluctuations of 4.8 Sv rms. The best guess of the peak-to-peak amplitude of the AMOC seasonal cycle is 6.7 Sv, with a maximum strength in autumn and a minimum in spring. While seasonality in the AMOC was commonly thought to be dominated by the northward Ekman transport, this study reveals that fluctuations of the geostrophic midocean and Gulf Stream transports of 2.2 and 1.7 Sv rms, respectively, are substantially larger than those of the Ekman component (1.2 Sv rms). A simple model based on linear dynamics suggests that the seasonal cycle is dominated by wind stress curl forcing at the eastern boundary of the Atlantic. Seasonal geostrophic AMOC anomalies might represent an important and previously underestimated component of meridional transport and storage of heat in the subtropical North Atlantic. There is evidence that the seasonal cycle observed here is representative of much longer intervals. Previously, hydrographic snapshot estimates between 1957 and 2004 had suggested a long-term decline of the AMOC by 8 Sv. This study suggests that aliasing of seasonal AMOC anomalies might have accounted for a large part of the inferred slowdown.

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W. E. Johns, M. O. Baringer, L. M. Beal, S. A. Cunningham, T. Kanzow, H. L. Bryden, J. J. M. Hirschi, J. Marotzke, C. S. Meinen, B. Shaw, and R. Curry

Abstract

Continuous estimates of the oceanic meridional heat transport in the Atlantic are derived from the Rapid Climate Change–Meridional Overturning Circulation (MOC) and Heatflux Array (RAPID–MOCHA) observing system deployed along 26.5°N, for the period from April 2004 to October 2007. The basinwide meridional heat transport (MHT) is derived by combining temperature transports (relative to a common reference) from 1) the Gulf Stream in the Straits of Florida; 2) the western boundary region offshore of Abaco, Bahamas; 3) the Ekman layer [derived from Quick Scatterometer (QuikSCAT) wind stresses]; and 4) the interior ocean monitored by “endpoint” dynamic height moorings. The interior eddy heat transport arising from spatial covariance of the velocity and temperature fields is estimated independently from repeat hydrographic and expendable bathythermograph (XBT) sections and can also be approximated by the array.

The results for the 3.5 yr of data thus far available show a mean MHT of 1.33 ± 0.40 PW for 10-day-averaged estimates, on which time scale a basinwide mass balance can be reasonably assumed. The associated MOC strength and variability is 18.5 ± 4.9 Sv (1 Sv ≡ 106 m3 s−1). The continuous heat transport estimates range from a minimum of 0.2 to a maximum of 2.5 PW, with approximately half of the variance caused by Ekman transport changes and half caused by changes in the geostrophic circulation. The data suggest a seasonal cycle of the MHT with a maximum in summer (July–September) and minimum in late winter (March–April), with an annual range of 0.6 PW. A breakdown of the MHT into “overturning” and “gyre” components shows that the overturning component carries 88% of the total heat transport. The overall uncertainty of the annual mean MHT for the 3.5-yr record is 0.14 PW or about 10% of the mean value.

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Gregory C. Johnson, Rick Lumpkin, Simone R. Alin, Dillon J. Amaya, Molly O. Baringer, Tim Boyer, Peter Brandt, Brendan R. Carter, Ivona Cetinić, Don P. Chambers, Lijing Cheng, Andrew U. Collins, Cathy Cosca, Ricardo Domingues, Shenfu Dong, Richard A. Feely, Eleanor Frajka-Williams, Bryan A. Franz, John Gilson, Gustavo Goni, Benjamin D. Hamlington, Josefine Herrford, Zeng-Zhen Hu, Boyin Huang, Masayoshi Ishii, Svetlana Jevrejeva, John J. Kennedy, Marion Kersalé, Rachel E. Killick, Peter Landschützer, Matthias Lankhorst, Eric Leuliette, Ricardo Locarnini, John M. Lyman, John J. Marra, Christopher S. Meinen, Mark A. Merrifield, Gary T. Mitchum, Ben I. Moat, R. Steven Nerem, Renellys C. Perez, Sarah G. Purkey, James Reagan, Alejandra Sanchez-Franks, Hillary A. Scannell, Claudia Schmid, Joel P. Scott, David A. Siegel, David A. Smeed, Paul W. Stackhouse, William Sweet, Philip R. Thompson, Joaquin A. Triñanes, Denis L. Volkov, Rik Wanninkhof, Robert A. Weller, Caihong Wen, Toby K. Westberry, Matthew J. Widlansky, Anne C. Wilber, Lisan Yu, and Huai-Min Zhang
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